Michael Mokretsov loves fencing.
It began when he first tried the sport at age 12 in his hometown of Khmelnitsky, Ukraine. That love led him to a silver medal in the Ukraine National Championship, to travel to the United States to fence for St. John’s University, and then to open a fencing academy in Brooklyn and now, Port Washington.
“It is interesting to work with the kids, to share the experience and grow in a different way of perceiving fencing,” he said of coaching. “And it helped me with fencing because I had to start thinking more.”
Mokretsov said he played basketball and danced when he was younger, but was drawn to fencing by its mental component and the variety of outcomes.
“A match against one person can be completely different each time,” he said. “You have to make decisions. There is strategy. It isn’t all physical.”
For several years as a teenager, Mokretsov was a member of Ukraine’s national team, competing in tournaments around Europe and the world. He was a finalist in the European Championship team event in 2004.
In 2006, he left Ukraine for the United States, where he had received a scholarship to fence for St. John’s University.
“Many colleges have fencing scholarships,” he said. “And the scholarships are not that competitive compared to tennis or basketball since it is a niche sport.”
At St. John’s, he earned All-American honors in 2008 and served as team captain and manager.
Fencing dominated his life, and so he was unsure what to do when he graduated in 2010. The economy was in the midst of a recession and jobs were hard to find. He had already spent the previous four years volunteering as a fencing coach, so he decided to open New York Fencing Academy in Brooklyn.
“It was scary, but it became very successful,” he said. “For 14 and younger, we were rated number one in the country.”
Mokretsov’s students, many of whom he has coached since they were 9, have won medals around the world. Speaking in his empty Port Washington studio a week before it was set to open, he mentioned that he had just returned with some of his students from a world championship in Italy.
As to why he had chosen Port Washington for his second location, Mokretsov said he wanted to have another practice space closer to some of his students, and he had many in the Port Washington area.
“We have many students coming from Long Island, and it is hard for them to train at a high level if they can only come on weekends,” he said.
Students as young as 6 can join the Fencing Academy. Mokretsov said he starts off by teaching them positions and how to hold the weapon, and recommends that students take four private lessons before taking the group classes.
“For the kids, it’s fun because you get to use a weapon,” he said, and then noted that fencing was one of the safest sports to play.
Even though most of his students are younger, Mokretsov said one of his favorite things about fencing is that it is a sport you can participate in, and get better at, regardless of age and body type.
“We have tall and short, we have slow and fast, those less physically strong can defeat an opponent with strategy,” he said. “We have veterans, guys over 60, who fence. And some who are 40 can get the best results of their life because they have experience.”